School Board Lawyers in Virginia Say Getting Shot Is An Occupational Hazard

School Board Lawyers in Virginia Say Getting Shot Is An Occupational Hazard

Abigail Zwerner, a Virginia first-grade teacher, has been informed by lawyers for the Newport News school board that she is only entitled to file a worker’s compensation claim because the injury she sustained when a six-year-old child shot her is a “workplace injury.”

The board’s lawyers claim that being shot is simply a hazard of her occupation. James Graves, the president of the Newport News teachers union, told the (Norfolk, VA) Daily Press, “This is not military, this is not the police department. This is an education system,”

On Facebook, Graves posted more thoughts: “These lawyers have started a significant hurricane in our district by saying that being shot is part of what teachers signed up for.” 

Graves indicated that other school employees such as security officers and janitors have privately expressed their concerns to him and he implored every employee of the school to attend upcoming school board meetings.

The school board’s lawyers have been pushing back against Zwerner’s $40 million lawsuit. She filed it in April 2023 against the board, former superintendent George Parker III, and ex-principal Brianna Foster Newton. As reported by NBC News, Zwerner’s lawsuit attempts to hold those parties responsible for ignoring repeated warnings that the child who eventually shot Zwerner had possession of a gun.

The child, referred to in the lawsuit as John Doe, reportedly had several issues over the course of the school year that led to the shooting, including strangling a teacher. The school board had said that it would work with legal counsel once it received the suit.

In newly unsealed court documents, it was revealed that the child could be heard making statements such as “I shot the b—– dead” shortly following his shooting of Zwerner.

It remains unclear exactly how the 6-year-old obtained his mother’s firearm and loaded it, but his mother, Deja Taylor, is due to be sentenced in Oct. 2023 for the use of marijuana while possessing a firearm, a federal offense. Taylor faces between 18 and 24 months in prison for that charge. Her son will not be charged because he is too young to assist lawyers and likely would not understand the complexity of the legal process, according to a Newport News prosecutor.